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This Page Updated:
Thu Feb 19, 1998

3D Accelerators
Page 1: The Beginning
By: Evan Jones

The video game consoles and PCs have been playing leap frog for the last little while now. At one time the slow, ancient Ataris were pretty much the only consoles around, and they had better graphics then PCs. Eventually PCs caught up in terms of graphical quality, and then surpassed it. Then came Nintendo, a card company from Japan, who made a low cost console that could, for the time, produce excellent graphics. Computers eventually caught up, and again raised the bar. The Super Nintendo was another step, and then computers blew past it with amazing improvements in hardware, cost and incredible games like Doom, because PCs had finally reached the home in large numbers. The PC was surpassed by the consoles again, this time by the Sega Saturn, the Sony Playstation and the Nintendo 64.

The current generation of consoles all have dedicated, specialized 3D graphics hardware. The chips and circuits have been engineered from the ground up to draw beautiful graphics at very high speeds. Advanced 3D graphics require massive amounts of information to be processed. On the consoles, the calculations are broken into two parts which are calculated separately. One processor draws the graphics and another handles everything else. On the PC, all of these calculations are done by the central processing unit, the CPU.

Computer CPUs are designed to do generic calculations. They can crunch all sorts of numbers, and they are fast at it. However, when drawing 3D graphics, computer CPUs fall well behind the dedicated graphics subprocessors on consoles. They cannot do anything but draw 3D graphics, but they excel at it.

Computer graphics have caught up with the consoles again. Specialized 3D video cards and integrated 2D/3D video cards are now quite common at the consumer level. These cards are called 3D accelerators, because they accelerate 3D computer graphics. These boards are very similar to the ones in consoles, except for the fact that they are designed for PCs and tend to be able to run a greater variety of software. These 3D graphics processors are built to draw thousands of polygons (a flat 2D geometric shape in a 3D space) each second, with many possible advanced features that can greatly improve the realism of an image.

3D accelerators add so much graphics processing power that they can be used in two ways. They can be used to draw the graphics faster and make smoother animation, or they can be used to improved the beauty at the same speed. Along the left hand side are three, one from Tomb Raider and two from Quake 2. The left half of each screenshot is from the game at high resolution, the right half is from the 3D accelerated version. These images show the huge improvement in visual quality that can be achieved. Keep in mind that for the most part the high resolution version runs slower than the 3D Accelerated version. Clicking on the images will give you the full size comparison.

Page 2: How Computers Draw 3D Graphics
Page 3: Direct 3D vs. OpenGL
Page 4: Buying Suggestions

Screenshots

Tomb Raider - High resolution | 3D Accelerated

Tomb Raider
High resolution | 3D Accelerated
Quake 2 - High resolution | 3D Accelerated
Quake 2
High resolution | 3D Accelerated
Quake 2 - High resolution | 3D Accelerated
Quake 2
High resolution | 3D Accelerated
Further Info

Gamespot's 3D Exposed
An excellent and in-depth look at 3D technology



The Future of Gaming is created by Evan Jones